Beating the Bounds.

Rogation Sunday
Modified with thanks from Wicken News.

Father Ross Northing blessing the walkers before setting off. (Muston)In the past people living in the parishes of Stony Stratford and Calverton would have known the three days immediately before the Feast of the Ascension as the Rogation Days. The word comes from the Latin 'rogare', meaning to ask, and these were the days when God's blessing was asked on the crops, planted a few weeks earlier and just beginning to sprout.

Originally the custom came from Europe. It was initiated by the Archbishop of Vienna in the year 470 after terrible plagues and minor earthquakes had caused much hardship among the people. He ordered special prayers, asking God's blessing on their crops, to be recited as the villagers processed around their fields. The custom spread rapidly around Western Europe, and by the eighth century was established in Britain.

In days which offered little excitement to ordinary people, it can be imagined that processions around the countryside in lovely spring weather were very popular. In fact, not only the fields were blessed: in seaside districts the parishoners would troop down to the waterside and bless the water and the fishing boats and pray for a good fishing season ahead.

These processions had also been useful in showing people their parish boundaries. As time went on, these boundaries became even more important as administration was changing. So, the custom of 'Beating the Bounds' grew up to show everyone, and especially the younger members of the parish, where the boundaries lay.

At the boundary-marks of the parish such as a pond, a big tree or a rock, the parson would stop and read the Gospel, and when this had been done the boys of the parish suffered some indignity to imprint the boundary-mark on their minds. Sometimes they were bumped about, pushed into the stream, turned upside-down over a fence or hedge, thrown in a bramble-bush, or beaten with willow-wands. The willow wands used both then and now come from the straight suckers of a pollarded willow. Stripping the soft bark from the outside reveals the beautifully smooth white wood of new willow and it is from this action of removing the bark that we get the title of the country dance 'Strip the Willow' (which you may remember lurching through a couple of years' back at the village summer party to the accompaniment of the Calverton Players)

Beaten, bumped but unbowed
Philip Roberts reports from the sharp end.

Lucinda Lourie and Bob Sturgess puzzling over the way forward (Muston)This walk that we take part in every year is about eight miles long and takes us about four and a half hours to finish. We're going to do it again this year (sigh!).

We set off for the car park by the pumping station at about 10.30 am. When we arrive we get our blessing from Father Ross and we set off. I was a bit annoyed that my friend hadn't turned up, but there we go!

The first part of the walk takes us along the village boundary with Stony Stratford at the second corner. I was bumped: this involved being turned upside down and having my head bumped on the ground. Well, it does nowadays - before you would have been thrown in a bush or a pond. Good thing they've changed that then isn't it? For one thing I didn't have my swimming trunks on and I know that we go past a pond.

When we came out onto the road we met my friend Andy driving along with his dad without a care in the world. They did stop and he joined us - stupid boy!

Later on, after ploughing through tall grass, we finally stopped for lunch. 'Finally, finally, finally' was the main thing we were chanting. Lunch lasted about half an hour.

When we moved on we couldn't get out of Lady Marjorie's Gorse. I remember something like this happening last year - it was in the same place too if I remember correctly. When we got out, drama one occurred - we had lost two people. Three of us went back to try to find them, but without success. When we rejoined the group they were there. Funny how they had got out so fast!

As soon as this was over drama two occurred. Somebody had driven a lorry through a gate and set it on fire. The fire brigade were called and came to put it out. After this it was good walking with no troubles until at about 3.00 pm we discovered we were a little bit lost. We got back on track after a few discussions.

Bounders pause for a half-way rest. Philip Roberts second from left. (Muston)The group started to split up in the last stages. Andy and I finished first - a couple of minutes ahead of the rest. When my dad finished I told him Andy and I were walking back (if you haven't guessed, we were going a tiny bit mad).

Overall the day was fun and exciting, but also tiring. Oh well, I suppose pleasure and pain come together.

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Last updated 8th July 1999.